Hammers Of Misfortune
The Locust Years
posted on 8/2006 By:
Although it seemed foolish to bet against them, at the same time, it also felt perhaps unreasonably optimistic to believe that Hammers of Misfortune could maintain their elite, jaw dropping form for yet a third album. You may or may not regard The Locust Years as actually superior to The August Engine and/or The Bastard, but that’s not really important. What IS important is that the Hammers (much like fellow lauded and genre-less Americans Agalloch) have, for the third consecutive time, produced an album of exceptional style, creativity, and quality. What’s so intriguing about this band is how deftly they straddle the lines between what they are and simultaneously what they’re not. They manage to sound unequivocally fresh while maintaining a classic, often tip of the tongue familiarity. Their grand, theatrical style is rooted in metal but has equal debts to other genres, and the band’s absolutely sublime penchant for harmony and uncommon melody and phrasing has a fundamental and universal appeal to the music loving generalist. The music is grandiose and stimulating without becoming the least pretentious; it’s smart and creative, classic but forward thinking. And it remains underappreciated.
Continuing to expand their theatrical tendencies, The Locust Years might be best described as a rock opera which explores the current and tragic themes of these times of politics, war, and culture. Early uptempo tracks like the self-titled opener and the stellar “Trot Out the Dead” are built upon heavier, metal riffing and are also absolutely blistering indictments of the architects of this war. These songs quickly emerge as immediate favorites, as they capitalize on the marriage of John Cobbett’s vintage metal riffs and the unique and equally classic voice of Mike Scalzi, a key ingredient of Slough Feg’s enormous appeal. But in addition to Scalzi’s talents, much of the vocal work goes to bassist Jamie Myers, with support from keyboardist Sigrid Sheie. This triple threat provides some stunning vocal combinations, which advance the material’s folk and theatrical elements. The female vocals often take center stage on mournful and frequently quieter tracks such as “Famine’s Lamp” and “We are the Widows”. But equally sad is the upbeat and downright perfectly executed send up “War Anthem”, where the three vocalists combine to deliver a painfully dreamy chorus of a public who have stars and stripes in their glassed over eyes. Lines like “Here in the holy land/See how united and strong we stand/Slogans and banners for every man” and “Sons of our servants shall serve and serve us well/And gifted with endless war/Flags and fanatics forevermore” are delivered over an upbeat tempo, complete with patriotic drumline pep rally break, while the instrumental portions come off like a heavier, and reality based, commentary on the myopic characters.
The vocal interplay on The Locust Years is critical to its success, but equaled by the instrumental combinations of guitarists Cobbett and Scalzi, along with drummer Chewy and bassist Meyers, and the varied key work of Sheie. Frequent use of the Hammond organ accounts heavily for the band’s retro, 70's progressive stylings (and gives the instrumental “Election Day” a damn near classic rock vibe in places), while piano contributes to the album’s solemn, reflective periods. The Locust Years is a textbook example of an album that needs to be heard in its entirety. The quieter and instrumental tracks may initially sound second best, but eventually become indispensable to the album in its entirety, and those early favorite tracks referred to will eventually become matched by growers like “Chastity Rides” and closer “Widow’s Wall”. The Locust Years is one of those rare complete packages, where music, creativity, style, lyrics, and presentation (hell, even the artwork is great) all contribute to an exceptional cause.
As we move toward the end of the year, my best-of list still has more vacant spots than not, but two of the albums that are on the early version (Pharaoh’s The Longest Night joins HoM) are courtesy of the small Cruz Del Sur. Also worthy of mention is that it appears that the majority of the Hammers have recently left the fold. Although this is John Cobbett’s baby creatively, the execution of The Locust Years is very much a group effort. Here’s hoping that there’s life beyond The Locust Years.
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